Interactive reading between you and the young children you're reading to is essential in supporting children's early literacy skills. You can use interactive books to help engage infants and toddlers and capture their interest and natural curiosity. Interactive books typically feature different textures, lift-the-flap activities, moving parts, pull tabs, or die-cut pages, which also helps support young children's sensory development. In Time for a Story, Amy Brooks Read and Saroj Nadkarni Ghoting offer the following tips on using interactive books to support the early literacy skills of the children in your care:
Infants and toddlers will most likely treat books as toys—they'll want to put them in their mouth, pull them, or tear them. It is okay to let young children explore and play as they learn how to handle books, but use positive redirection if they start to get too rough. When you're not reading the books, you may want to put them up out children's reach until the next time you read them.
As you read and play with books that have flaps and tabs, encourage children to look for what is hidden. Be sure to reinforce their actions with excitement. Once they understand that the picture will be under the flap, move on to guessing games. Encouraging children to make predictions about what might be under the flap or behind the tab will help them with their narration skills as they learn about story structure. Make sure you keep this activity fun and positive—incorrect answers are learning opportunities for young children.
Pay attention to babies' cues and gestures as you read with them—batting at a page, kicking their legs, or pulling the book to their mouth are indications that they are engaged in the reading activity. Having fun with books as you read has a positive influence on babies' budding relationship with books. Here are a few ways you can have fun with infants and toddlers as you read:
- Give characters different voices
- Make positive statements, such as, "I love this book," "This is a funny story," and "The pictures are so pretty."
- Change the inflection of your voice—avoid reading in a monotone voice
- Make the books come alive by adding different voices and movements
- Get excited about what is under a flap or behind a tab
- Talk about the textures in a touch-and-feel book
Remember, children who enjoy books and are comfortable with them are much more likely to stick with learning how to read in preschool and elementary school.
In addition to building a foundation of prereading skills, helping young children learn how to handle books also helps them develop prewriting skills. Infants and toddlers will first touch textures in books with their whole hands, but they will eventually be able to touch them with just a finger as they gain more physical control. Pulling tabs, lifting flaps, and turning pages are all examples of motor activities that help children develop the hand-eye coordination and dexterity needed for writing.
Since the text in infant/toddler books is short, you can add rhythm to your voice and turn the story into a song, which will capture young children's attention. Singing songs helps them hear words being broken up into smaller sounds and increases their phonological awareness. It's important that you find ways to reinforce the ideas, themes, and concepts found in the book you're reading. For example, if you were reading Where Is Baby's Belly Button? by Karen Katz, you could sing "Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes" while touching those parts of the body to reinforce the concepts young children are learning.
How you talk when you read books to children can help them build their vocabulary and increase their background knowledge. When you read interactive books to children, try to add information about what you see in the pictures and use positional words (under, inside, beside, and behind). Even if they only babble, be sure to give children opportunities to respond to the book. Pause for about five seconds after asking children a question. If the child is too young to respond, answer the question yourself. Raising your voice at the end of a question can also help young children learn that a response is expected. All of this helps children learn about the patterns in conversation.
Be sure to browse our selection of children's books and the Language Skills category in our Infant and Toddler Care section of the website for a variety of materials and tools you can use to support early literacy skills in infants and toddlers.